I have spent the last two decades covering motor races in South Africa, the UK and in Europe. As a result of this activity I have built up a vast archive of images from these events which have been used in publications around the world. Our photo agency, Virtual Motorpix (VMP), was formed in 2010 with the aim of organising this archive and better serving the publishing industry by bringing this large resource before an interested readership. To this end, and in an effort to illustrate the breadth and depth of this archive, I am creating a NEW #MiniSeries that looks back at the achievements of various manufacturers in Prototype and GT endurance racing at selected European races over the last decade. While it would be too long to record in detail every race or happening with all cars of a certain type, I have attempted to bring you a snapshot of some of what we do have. In the first of my #MiniSeries, I am uncovering some of the images that tell the story of the Corvette racing cars, charting some of the successes and the disappointments of this car over this period.
As you can see from this pair of images, when you are at Silverstone in May you are never very far away from getting wet, although it must be said, that this day was one of the wettest in years, making it very interesting indeed. This race was for the European GT3 Championship, the opening round of the 2006 FIA GT Championship season at Silverstone on 7 May.
Driving the #21 Chevrolet Corvette C6 Z06.R GT3 (Callaway), the French pairing of Philippe Charriol/Christopher Campbell finished 27th in Race 1 and 29th in Race 2. The #20 Chevrolet Corvette C6 Z06.R GT3 (Callaway) of Benjamin Dessange/Marc Sourd did not fair as well, posting a DNF in Race 1, but finishing 28th in Race 2.
2007 was a very busy year for VMP on many different fronts, and in this year we covered both the Silverstone FIA GT round as well as the Le Mans 24-Hour race. This time round, the day was dry and cold but overcast at times, giving the drivers and spectators a good race.
Despite losing its bonnet and part of its front left fender, the #19 Chevrolet Corvette C6.R Z06 of Philipp Peter (A)/Luke Hines (GB) finished in 13th place (2 laps behind the winner), having started from 13th on the grid.
The Le Mans race, the 75th running of this great event, was notable for many things, one of them being the absolute deluge on the Saturday afternoon. But then Le Mans is renowned for throwing every kind of weather at you at any stage, and with little notice. The hot weather and the building storm clouds gave some warning, but the downpour that followed caught many by surprise, to which the Rockenfeller accident in the Audi R10 TDI after just 23 laps would bear testament. The #70 Corvette C6.R of Philipp Peter/David Hallyday/Claude-Yves Gosselin would survive the eventful 24-hour race to finish in 28th overall and twelfth in the GT1 class.
Being at the Spa 24-Hours, you can bet your bottom dollar that at some stage you are going to get showered on, it comes with being in the region of the Ardennes. The Spa 24-Hours is a really great event because you get a real mix of cars and teams, including some serious machinery like the Maserati MC12s who were triumphant with a 1-2 finish that year. Spa is great for another reason, and that is that you get such awesome photo opportunities because of the hills and forest backdrops.
The race started dry, then Saturday evening it rained, while Sunday was dry through to the end of the race. But this wasn’t a good race for the Phoenix Carsport Racing Corvette C6.R Z06 driven by Hezemans/Fässler/Delétraz/Gollin, as they went out with a car fire. Marcel Fässler of course went on to drive for Audi, first in the ALMS in 2008, but as from 2010 he became a permanent fixture in the Audi Team.
Entered by Luc Alphand Aventures (Alphand is a former French World Cup alpine ski racer), the #72 Corvette C6.R Z06 was driven here by the French duo Richard Balandras and Michel Lecourt. Having started from 31st place on the grid, the car moved up the field to finish 22nd overall. Here the Corvette approaches the Luffield Complex.
The brainchild of Stéphane Ratel of SRO, 2010 was the debut season for the FIA GT1 World Championship, replacing the FIA GT Championship which had run from 1997 to 2009. It was the first sports car racing series to be sanctioned by the FIA as a World Championship since the end of the World Sportscar Championship which drew to a close when Group C was terminated at the end of 1992. The new championship was run over ten races in ten countries covering three continents, and was contested by twelve teams. Although each team was effectively privately run, a limited amount of support was allowed by each manufacturer represented. The six teams included Aston Martin, Corvette, Ford, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Nissan, each being represented by two teams but provision for only one tyre manufacturer was made, this being Michelin.
The Silverstone race was the second on the calendar that year in the new series, with the Ford GT having taken the honours at the opening race at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi in mid-April. Although Oliver Gavin in the Mad-Roc Corvette set the early qualifying pace, they were well off the pace by the end of the session. During the early part of the race, however, it was announced over the Tannoy that a Corvette had burst into flames. I was in the pits at the time and there was no chance of me making it across to the location of the incident quickly. So I just had to wait there for the car to be returned to the team. Apparently the #14 Phoenix Racing Corvette began to emit smoke down the Hangar Straight with Mike Hezemans behind the wheel. When the car eventually came to a stop, the rear of car was immediately enveloped in flames, and while Hezemans escaped from the scene unharmed, the race was delayed while the track was cleaned up. I was able to catch a few shots of the damaged car as it was off-loaded from the rescue truck in the paddock, much to the chagrin of the team.
Perhaps the most significant piece of Le Mans history this year was that the 40-year old distance record of 3315 miles set by Helmut Marko/Gijs van Lennep in the Porsche 917 back in 1971, was broken by the winning Audi R15-Plus by a distance of 47 miles. For the 2010 Le Mans race, Luc Alphand entered two Corvettes in the GT1 class, #72 and #73, while the factory entered an additional two GT2 cars. It would be the #72 Corvette C6-R of Policand/Gregoire/Hart that would be the only surviving Corvette to cross the line after 24-hours of racing, the other three dropping out with assorted engine and gearbox woes. What promised to be an entertaining class scrap between the two Corvettes, a lone Saleen and Aston Martin, three Ford GTs and a single Lamborghini, actually faded to a whimper as the Saleen took class honours followed by the #72 Corvette and the Aston Martin in third. These three cars were the only ones to finish the race in the GT1 class, the other five cars in class failing to finish.
Both of our photos selected for this year are from the Le Mans 24-Hour race. This was the first year that the GT class was redefined and split into GTE (E = Endurance) Pro and Am. The Pro class was aimed at fully professional drivers whereas the Am class was logically for amateur drivers who basically drove 1-year old cars, which meant that the Pro class was really the preserve of the manufacturer works teams. It’s an interesting concept which has its pros and cons, but that is a discussion for another time.
The C6.ZR1, new for 2009, was a significant evolution of the C6-R which debuted at the Sebring 12-Hours in March 2005. The 2009 car boasted an aluminium frame, and the car was basically prepared for the hotly contested GT2 class where it would come up against Ferrari and Porsche, as well as Aston Martin. The GT2 design differs from the GT1 car in that it is homologated on the wider ZR1 road car, whilst the original C6.R was based on the Z06.
This was a good year for the Corvettes at Le Mans, as the Pro class was won by Garcia/Milner/Beretta in the #73 C6.ZR1, while the Am class went to the #50 Larbre Competition Corvette of Bornhauser/Canal/Gardel. Audi romped home victorious yet again, but Peugeot were hard on their heels.
This was the second year on the trot for the Audi trio of Fässler/Tréluyer/Lotterer who took the chequered flag at the end of the 24-hour race, a remarkable achievement. 2012 was also significant in that the spectators were treated to the innovative Delta Wing Project 56 racer, an ambitious step by both the ACO and Ben Bowlby with his Delta Wing team.
In GTE qualifying, it was the #74 Corvette that grabbed third spot on the grid in the Pro class, but the Am class an all-Porsche affair. In the race itself though, it was quite a different matter as the #73 and #74 Corvettes both succumbed to non-driver related problems, pushing them well down the order. A glorious battle between #50 Corvette and the #67 Porsche kept the crowds on their feet, but it was the Corvette that claimed the laurels in the GTE Am class (in the accompanying image, the driver can be seen waving to his pit crew on the wall at the finish). The best of the works Corvettes, the #73 car, only managed fifth place in the Pro class, two laps behind its Am colleagues. The #50 Am Corvette finished just seven laps behind the class winning Ferrari in the GTE Pro class, a phenomenal result after 24 hours of racing.
Silverstone was the first WEC race of the 2013 season, and being in April the weather would always try and throw a bit of winter back at those who were hoping for a burst of warm weather. No such luck! There was some unhappiness in the pit lane with the new qualifying sessions which had been reduced to a 20-minute short blast for the two nominated drivers, the grid position being calculated as the average of the best lap times for each driver. The problem was that it only gave each driver a short window of two quick laps in addition to the in and out laps, and the car’s tyres usually required 5 or 6 laps to get to operating temperature. Anyway, it was the same for the whole field, but it didn’t go down very well. In the race it was the #50 Corvette of Julien Canal/Patrick Bornhauser/Fernando Rees, the sole Corvette in the field, that finished second in the GTE Am class at the end of a cold, but dry 6-hour race.
The 2013 Le Mans race was perhaps not Corvette’s best performance. After qualifying, the two Pro Corvettes found themselves in eighth and ninth places while the two Am cars were down in eleventh and twelfth on the grid in their class. Either this could have been as a result of everyone else being faster, or there was some problem with the ‘Vette’s speed. An inside source told me that it was the latter, ‘they were 10mph down on top end and the engineers just cannot fathom what it is,’ I was told. But then the car was at the end of its development life and the new ‘Vette was due the following year. At the end of the race the Pro Corvettes finished fourth and seventh, with the Am cars finishing the race fifth and eleventh in class. This race will of course be remembered for all the wrong reasons, as the Dane Allan Simonsen, driving an Aston Martin in the GTE Am class, lost his life in a high speed accident at Tertre Rouge on only the third lap of the race.
The 2014 Le Mans practice week was jam-packed with action. Several cars tried their best to demolish the barriers at the Porsche Curves, these including the #1 Audi, an LMP2 car and then no less than five GTE cars all had a go. However the barriers withstood this concerted and repeated effort, which leads one to appreciate just how difficult this set of curves is for all classes of cars and drivers.
The Corvettes were present with their new generation C7.R, the much anticipated seventh generation ‘Vette, which had its debut at the 2014 Daytona 24-Hour race. The C7.R featured a new aluminium chassis which employed a patented welding process resulting in a race chassis that is 40 percent stronger than the outgoing C6.R which translated immediately into a better handling car. The new car also featured a direct injection engine for the first time since the end of the GT1 era in 2009, but the engine is limited by GT rules to a maximum displacement of 5.5-litre.
How did this translate into racing results? Well, the Corvette GTE Pro #73 started from second place on the grid and finished the race in second place. Likewise, its #74 sibling started from fourth on the Saturday and finished in fourth place too. You could argue that they were at least consistent, but that isn’t what the drivers and team would want to hear, especially with their new car.
There were no GTE Am Corvettes in the 2013 Le Mans race…
NOTE: The above are images taken at various European races, but we also have access to ALMS, IMSA/Tudor, Grand AM racing pics (you can find a selection on our website, just click the link on the photos above).
Written by: Glen Smale